Face First in the Mud

Posted on: November 20th, 2016 by lschwartz No Comments

A few weeks ago, over a cup of coffee a friend of mine shared her sugar addiction with me.  She was in the middle of a really challenging time where she felt sugar was getting the best of her. As she shared with me the details of what this addiction was doing to her, I was uncomfortable listening to her share her struggles.

As I drove home later, I reflected on what it was about the conversation that made me feel so uncomfortable. First, I think it was about seeing her struggle and be in pain and feeling helpless to support her.  Upon further reflection, I realized we all love to hear a story of struggle with a happy ending. And almost daily we hear stories of struggles with happy endings;  the struggle to lose weight, the struggle to love yourself, the struggle to overcome an addiction.  But when we hear these stories, we are hearing the after, the resolution, the ending.  We want to hear about the time you fell face first in the mud, wiped yourself off and got up.  But we often gloss over what it felt like to be face first in the mud with mud in our ears, eyes and mouth. We want to get to the good stuff, to celebrate that you cleaned yourself off and stood up.

We seem to be going through this right now in the teaching world in B.C.  We have many new things that we are facing.  We have a new curriculum, new reporting order, new self-assessment of core competencies and new report card template.  Add to that, in our district we also have new portal (communication platform), email system and e-portfolios. This is a lot of new and people are at different places with their comfort level and knowledge of all the new. This is not a time to gloss over our struggles, our fears or our time in the mud.  Let’s not wait for the happy ending to share what we are going through as we are faced with all this newness. Come together and really share our struggles and support each other as we embrace the new and try things we have never done before.

Sunday Evening Conversations and Sharing Our Passions

Posted on: September 17th, 2016 by lschwartz No Comments

I have a regular routine.  Sunday afternoons I begin my chores to start the week. One chore is the preparing the recycling and food compost for collection. It is not always my favourite job, but in the last few months it has become a welcome routine.  There is a gentleman who lives in our neighbourhood who collects bottles. I know that if I put out bottles that can be collected for a deposit around 5:45 on Sundays, I can talk to him.  He loves to talk about birds and sunsets and the phase of the current moon.  I have learned quite bit about birds from him the last few months.

Last Thursday I went for a walk after school.  Walking along the dyke in Richmond on a beautiful evening and I spotted my Sunday friend.  He was carrying a camera with a massive lens.  A speciality lens used for shooting things at a distance like birds and high level sporting events. He was taking photos and sharing them with a fellow walker.

As I witnessed this exchange between the two men, my brain started making all kinds of connections between things that inspire us and the work we do with our students and the new BCED curriculum.

Igniting passion in our students and giving space for students to explore their passions is what the new BCED curriculum is all about. When we share our passions with others, we connect and create community.

I am passionate about books, picture books specifically, but I also love YA books.  This summer I spent a lot of time sharing my passion and my reading with others on social media and in real life.  When I talk about books with other people, share a title or learn about a new “Must Read Book”, I feel joyful. Sharing my passion with others makes me happy.  I never have to be asked or told to read a book, I want to.

This is what I want for students, for my kids and for all kids.  Time and space to uncover the curriculum and explore their passions.

Leave me a comment, what are you passionate about?  What brings you joy?  What spaces have you created in your classroom or schools to share that joy with others?



#MustReadin2016 Update

Posted on: April 11th, 2016 by lschwartz 4 Comments

I took a leap and joined Carrie Gelson’s challenge #MustReadin2016.  It is hard not to get drawn in by Carrie’s enthusiasm and love for books.  When I read her blog, her words make me want to run out and by every book.  I am proud of what I have read so far.  I have read many of the books on my list and I even ventured off the list.   I have already read 10/15 books and it is only April.

Here is what I have read so far, in the order that I read them:

The Thing about Jellyfish- Ali Benjamin

Paper Things- Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Written in the Stars- Aisha Saeed

All the Bright Places- Jennifer Niven

Roller Girl- Victoria Jamieson

Count Me in – Sara Leach (not on my original list, but read it for a literature circle project)

The Last Time We Say Goodbye- Cynthia Hand

Small as an Elephant- Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Touching Spirit Bear – Ben Mikaelsen (not on my original list)

Everything, Everything- Nicola Yoon

I enjoyed all of the books that I have read so far this year. Many of them had me weeping in parts.  The two books that have really stayed with me long after I finished them:


Everything, Everything- Nicola Yoon.  I read this book on my flight home from Florida and couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t put it down and was finished it well before the flight was over. Madeline is a character that you will think about well after you turn the final page. She has the “Bubble baby disease” and can’t leave her house.  At seventeen, she is like Rapunzel trapped in her tower.  Madeline sees the world outside and can only imagine what it feels like to feel rain on her face or sunshine.  This is the story of what happens when a boy her age moves next door and their ongoing relationship from afar.


51LLIhiNdJL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Written in the Stars- Naila is in love with a boy that her parents have not chosen for her.  They are furious at her and bring her back to Pakistan to explore her roots.  But the vacation is changed and what follows is Naila’s story of an arranged marriage and her new life in Pakistan.


I look forward to adding to my list and reading many more books in 2016.

My Story: #MustReadin2016 Challenge

Posted on: January 8th, 2016 by lschwartz 2 Comments

This year I am joining Carrie Gelson and a host of other book lovers for the #MustReadin2016 on Twitter. I am very excited and inspired to read my list of books.

Last Summer, I re-discovered my love of reading when I joined another reading challenge on Twitter. Donalyn Miller’s #bookaday hashtag had me turning pages late into the night many times last summer. It was invigorating to read and enjoy so many books and connect with others on Twitter.

Here is my list of #MustReadin2016 books:

      51WLo5tAs3L._SX354_BO1,204,203,200_ The Thing About Jelly Fish by Ali Benjamin- Completed Jan 3, 2016

51UnPzofEWL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_ Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

51bBbJPlfNL._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU15_SL135_All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

51kPXj+MF6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ How to Build a Girl- Caitlin Moran

51LLIhiNdJL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_ Written in the Stars- Aisha Saeed

51Ogkxm7QML._AA160_ Everything, Everything- Nicola Yoon

51ffwVD0FeL._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_ Crenshaw- Katherine Applegate

41OqMfINFRL._SL500_SL135_ Paper Things- Jennifer Richard Jacobson

51mJEataWuL._SL500_SL135_ The Truth About Twinkie Pie- Kate Yeh

51egQ49Nm6L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_ Hope is a Ferris Wheel- Robin Herra

61umd+zBVJL._SX396_BO1,204,203,200_ The Teacher You Want to Be- Alfie Kohn, Matt Glover et al.

51DDdbBAEpL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

41SS8CrR6yL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

31ybVrekqpL._SL500_SL135_All The Small Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

What are you reading this year?




My Story of Innovation and Discomfort

Posted on: October 22nd, 2015 by lschwartz No Comments

Driving home from the pumpkin patch a few Sundays ago, my daughter, Sarah,  announced that she was going to make a vending machine out of cardboard.  My inside voice was thinking, “That’s never going to work.”  My outside voice asked, “Can you tell me more about that, what materials will you need?”

After some discussion about materials, she decided that maybe a game would be more manageable.  At this point, I told her about the video Caine’s Arcade and the cardboard challenge that continues in schools every year.

Sarah spent the rest of that Sunday afternoon creating, not one, but three games out of cardboard and other materials around the house.  Mostly independently, but with a little help from her Dad for the finishing touches.

She created a ball drop game:


Using my kitchen tongs, she created her favourite, “The Claw” game.



Finally she used some plastic cups to create a game where you had to shoot a ping pong ball into a cup and there were point cards in each cups.


Inspired by Caine’s arcade, she created her own play passes and play pass slots and we had to hunt down tickets at our local dollar store.

IMG_5265 IMG_5266


You might be wondering why this is on my work blog and not a personal blog.  Yes it is a proud moment for me, but I also made so many work connections to the events of that Sunday afternoon.

1.  One of reasons Sarah felt that this kind of project was possible was because of the possibilities she is being exposed to at school. The importance for students to be given the time and spaceto see what is possible.

2. This is the kind of project that fits in so well with B.C.’s new curriculum documents that many educators are using and playing with this year.  It was cross curricular in nature.  There was literacy, math and those important competencies (communication, thinking and personal/social). I witnessed Sarah being creative in her creation of the games, but also being critical when having to solve problems when certain aspects of her games were not working.

3.  It is not lost on me, that I was very uncomfortable at several times during this whole process.  Discomfort because I wasn’t sure where this was going.  Discomfort because I didn’t know if I knew how to help her. It is the fear of being vulnerable in the face of change.  Even discomfort in writing this for fear people might see me as less than capable.  Working with teachers and the new curriculum on a daily basis, I may not be alone with some of these fears.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 1.11.10 PM


My Story: Nurturing my Love of Reading

Posted on: October 14th, 2015 by lschwartz 3 Comments

For the past few summers, I have started my holiday with a stack of books and a determination to read them all.  Like a New Year’s resolution, I relish in the feeling that I am going to accomplish something.  Two summers ago, I tweeted out my book stack with hopes of it keeping me accountable. But each summer unfolded the same.  I looked at that stack of books and gave myself reasons and deadlines to put off reading them.  In the blink of an eye, it would be the middle of August and I haden’t finished a single professional resource.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 8.24.01 PMI realized I had lost my love of reading.  Growing up I was a ferocious reader. I read anything I could get my hands on.  I often stayed up late into the night turning pages to a story that I couldn’t put down.  But in the last few years, I had lost that love of reading. Reading started to feel like a job, not a joy.

In June, I came across a blog post by Donalyn Miller about her Book a Day challenge on twitter.  Essentially read a book a day throughout the summer and tweet about it with the hashtag #bookaday.  This was my opportunity to celebrate reading, connect with a community who loved reading and reclaim the joy I had lost.

It was a beautiful summer of reading.  I read YA books and picture books, graphic novels and beginning chapter books and even one professional resource.  There were many nights that I stayed up long after the house was quiet engrossed in a good book.

I spent the summer nurturing reading in myself and in doing so I realized the importance of nurturing reading in our students. While we can not discount  the importance of our students having time in their day to read books at a level that they can read independently to build fluency.  We also must nurture a love and excitement of reading in our classrooms.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 8.41.17 PM



My Story, Your Story, Our Story

Posted on: August 20th, 2015 by lschwartz 2 Comments

I always find it both strange and comforting how things happen together in a way that are not connected, but end up becoming connected.

My friend and colleague, Chris Loat recently returned from the ADE 2015 conference in Florida.  One hot summer night surrounded by mosquitos, he talked about the theme of story at the conference and the importance of telling our story and the role that technology can play in storytelling. Our conversation, my passion for all things literacy and my inquiry into children’s oral story telling really got me excited about the role that story could play in my own professional learning.

A couple week’s later, I came across Chris Kennedy’s blog post about our local Richmond paper closing its doors after 83 years and how we as educators need to find ways to fill that void and tell our stories. The stories that local papers have always shared.

These two events were sending a message loud and clear.  It is time for me to dust off this space and begin to tell my own story.

What has prevented me from using this space, has been my own struggle with perfectionism. The fear that the content is not quite right.  But I am both inspired and excited to use this space to tell my own story.  My story as a teacher consultant who is passionate about literacy.  My story as a teacher who believes we can teach all children to read.  But just as important as teaching every child to read is showing every child the joy of reading and give them ample reasons to be life long readers and learners.  My story of using the draft documents of our transformed B.C. curriculum with other educators in our district.  My story of technology integration in literacy. My story about my questions, my readings and my learning.

We all have stories to tell and in telling our stories we make sense of our world, connect with others and look at things with fresh eyes. I am both excited and nervous to share my story this year.

“The world is shaped by two things — stories told and the memories they leave behind.” – Vera Nazarian

Picture Books to Inspire Creativity and Innovation

Posted on: January 9th, 2015 by lschwartz No Comments

Today we had an inspiring session about literacy with primary teachers who are members of our district mentoring program.  We talked a lot about using picture books for a variety of things such as teaching social responsibility, self regulation and inspiring students to read.  We also talked about the value of sharing book lists of great books that are go to for different topics and subjects.  With our B.C. curriculum transforming and adopting a focus on core competencies, I thought it would be beneficial to compile a list of books that talk about creativity, perseverance and thinking outside the box.

Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds


Rafeal has been waiting all year for the Going Places contest to build a go-cart and win.  He gets the first kit and runs home to build his go cart. He follows the precise instructions and is proud of his efforts.   Maya, his neighbour, uses her kit as a seat and sketches her dream g-cart.  Together they create a go-cart like no other.  A story that celebrates creativity, perseverance and thinking outside the box.

Anything is Possible– Giulia Belloni


The story of a determined sheep and his best friend, wolf.  Sheep is determined to build a flying machine, while Wolf is very skeptical.  Together they work on the flying machine, always looking for a new solution.  A story about perseverance, creativity and team work.

The Most Magnificent Thing– Ashley Spires


The story of a girl and her very best friend, her dog.  This regular girl wants to create the most magnificent thing.  The story of taking an idea, creating a plan, gathering supplies and failing repeatedly. She gets angry, she wants to quit.  Her dog convinces her to go for a walk and she comes back with renewed spirit and a new take on her project.  A beautiful story about creativity, projects and perseverance.

Other titles that promote creativity:

What to do With an Idea– Kobi Yamanda


Rosie Revere Engineer– Andrea Beaty


Thinking About Invented Spelling

Posted on: December 16th, 2014 by lschwartz No Comments

“The fastest way to teach a child to read is to teach them to write.”

-Mem Fox

This term, I led a three part series on reading called “Explicit Teaching, Joyful Reading.”  In the final session we talked about the reading/writing connection and the importance of using writing time as a way to further develop reading skills.  When we ask children to write a story, reflect on an event or share a memory, we give students a purpose for their writing.  Purposeful writing leads to written work being read over and over again.  But not only does the product inspire students to read more and develop important reading skills, the process of creating the written piece also benefits students reading, writing and problem solving skills.
At the reading session last week, we talked a lot about invented spelling.  Research tells us that students who are encouraged to use invented spelling use a greater variety of words in their writing (Gunderson & Shapiro 1987 and Stice & Bertrand 1990).  As well, young children who are encouraged to use invented spelling to communicate ideas, develop better word recognition and phonics skills sooner than those who do not use invented spelling (Stice & Bertrand 1990).
Research aside, here are some other great reasons to encourage students to use invented spelling in their daily writing:
  • Invented spelling encourages students to become familiar letters and sounds and make connections between letters and sounds.
  • Children who use invented spelling take ownership over their own work and become independent writers because they ask for less help spelling unknown words.
  • Children are able to write more interesting stories, use more powerful words and express their thoughts when using invented spelling.
  • Children are able to write more words than they know how to read and this supports their efforts to express all their thoughts and ideas, not just the simple ones that they can spell.
  • Invented spellings gives children plenty of practice time using phonics and  letter sound patterns, when they represent the sounds that they hear.
"Boot camp equipment"

“Boot camp equipment”

This is a picture my daughter made while she waited for me at my Boot Camp class.

In reading and writing, just like the other subjects in school, we want our students to be independent thinkers who have the tools to solve problems.  Invented spelling is one way to encourage these habits of mind.


Teacher Research: Thinking About Story Workshop Part 1

Posted on: December 12th, 2014 by lschwartz No Comments

We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.~ ~Lloyd Alexander

This year, I have continued my work with Louesa Byrne at Thompson Elementary and Story Workshop.  Our project evolved from a visit to Opal School in Portland, Oregon, June 2013. The Opal School is a K-5 school guided by the principles of the early childhood schools of Reggio Emilia. During our visit to Opal School we witnessed Story Workshop and wondered what story workshop would look like in our context.

Questions guiding our inquiry:

  • What is the role story workshop in supporting literacy development?
  • How can we integrate essential skills of reading and writing into story workshop?
  • What will be the affect on students’ knowledge of story and vocabulary development through regular participation in story workshop?

Story workshop operates under the belief that everyone has a story to tell and that stories can be communicated in many different ways.  Students build their language and literacy development by building and representing stories with a variety of objects.

In the workshop, children are given provocations in the form of materials such as blocks, paint, sand, play-dough and loose parts.  The children build, play and make the story come alive in their actions and words. As teachers, we document their stories to make their learning visible and give space for the students to be authors and communicate their many stories. We capture these stories through photographs, audio recordings and recording their stories.

During this first months of school, our focus has been on establishing some routines within story workshop, the creation stories using different materials and the ability to tell a story orally.  We record the children’s stories using photos and the program Pages.

Our big ideas for the students:

  • Everyone has a story to tell
  • Authors find ideas for stories in different places
  • Stories emerge from different materials

Some of the provocations that we have used to inspire stories:

play dough and loose parts

play dough and loose parts

Natural materials and loose parts with grass mats

Natural materials and loose parts with grass mats

gems, natural materials and ocean finger puppets

gems, natural materials and ocean finger puppets

We value the time story workshop gives students to work with materials, develop stories and share ideas.  We value the time story workshop gives us to get to know the students, make connections and watch them develop as story tellers.